Teach English Online: The Complete Guide
What Are The Advantages to Teach English Online?
The online ESL industry is booming, with more people becoming online ESL teachers.There are so many reasons why people have made the decision to teach English online. While some people have made online ESL teaching a full-time endeavor, most people work part-time, enabling them to earn a secondary income from the comfort of their homes while keeping a day job, or performing other self-employed work. Here are some of the benefits of teaching English online:
Make Money Speaking English
You speak English every day. It’s your native language. You can speak English with your eyes closed (don’t do this while you teach!). There isn’t much more to learn to do this job.
Start Earning Immediately
You can earn money fairly quickly. Most online ESL teachers can expect to earn their first paycheck within a month.
Start Working with Minimal Startup Cost
You don’t need to invest a lot of money to get started. If you’re a university graduate and have a computer, you can start teaching English online for less than $500.
Schedule Your Own Work Hours
You may be required to work a minimum number of hours during peak periods, but you can choose how many hours you put in each day and week. Work as little or as much as you want.
Work From Home
This is a real work-from-home income opportunity. Thousands upon thousands of people are teaching English online from home. It’s legit.
Work While You Travel
What better way to travel than to do it while earning money? Many online ESL teachers travel while teaching English, and some stay abroad for extended periods, living in tropical paradises!
Presently, the majority of online ESL companies cater to Chinese, Japanese, and Korean learners, with Chinese online ESL companies representing the largest market, and thus opportunities to teach English online.
What Qualifications Do You Need To Teach ESL Online?
One of the best aspects of teaching English online is the low barrier to entry. If you have native English fluency, a computer with modern specs, and a high speed internet connection, you are pretty much set to go. However, most serious online ESL providers have a minimum set of qualifications for hiring people to teach English online with them. These qualifications are not purely the expectations of the hiring companies, but rather regulations they must comply with. So, to have any success as an online ESL teacher, you will need to meet these criteria:
Native English Fluency
Many online ESL companies have a strong preference for hiring teachers who are citizens of recognized native English speaking countries. In much of the ESL teaching industry, these are typically nationals of: Australia, Canada, Ireland, UK, and USA. Some companies also recognize South African nationals as native English speakers.
There are a few companies which only hire citizens in the country where they operate from, mainly to simplify their payment processing and tax reporting. For example, some US based companies only hire US nationals, and some Canadian companies only Canadian residents.
A few online ESL companies will hire citizens of other countries to teach English online. There is a wide base of online English teachers from The Philippines, India, and other countries where English is widely spoken.
In most cases, having a university degree will be necessary to teach English online. This is because countries like China have stringent regulations for hiring ESL teachers, and aim to regulate the online ESL industry in a manner that is consistent with the broader ESL teaching industry regulations.
A few companies are still able to hire ESL teachers who don’t possess a university degree, but these are increasingly becoming the exception.
Clean Criminal Record
Increasingly, online ESL companies are verifying the credentials of people they hire to ensure they have legitimate qualifications and no criminal record. While not all online ESL companies ask teachers to provide criminal clearance certificate, some have started to while others perform background checks. This is likely going to be the norm, as ESL teachers working abroad also need to provide a police clearance before obtaining a visa in many countries, especially since many ESL teachers work with children below the age of 18.
If you have no criminal history, then this is a non-issue. However, if you have a criminal record – even if it happened years ago – this may eventually limit your options to teach English online.
Depending on circumstances, it is possible to have a criminal record expunged. If it is the case that you have a prior record that is eligible for expungement, it may be worth the process.
Earn an Ofqual Level 5 TEFL Certification
Level 5 Online TEFL Certification
What Equipment Do You Need?
If you plan to teach English online, you will need some basic equipment. Fortunately, none of these are extraordinarily expensive to buy, and you more than likely already have the most expensive equipment already. Let’s have a look at the must haves:
Computer with Modern Specifications
A desktop or notebook computer with modern specifications is necessary. You don’t need a computer with the latest and greatest specs, but you need one capable of serving videoconferencing over a high speed Internet connection. Your computer should have the following:
Windows or Mac OS
Most online ESL companies will have a preference for Windows, so a desktop or notebook with Windows OS is your best bet. As well, many apps that can be used to aid teachers are either Windows-only. or they offer better features and capabilities on Windows.
If you are an Apple fan, we get it! Many online ESL teachers use Macs to teach English online, and can do so with few to no issues. However, the price tag for a Mac is higher, though that won’t necessarily mean you get better specs than a Windows computer. Also, some third party apps that are popular with online teachers either don’t offer Mac versions, or their Mac versions offer fewer options.
We don’t recommend buying or using a Chromebook as most online ESL companies do not accept these for teaching online ESL classes. Also, iPads and other tablets are great devices, but most online ESL companies have designed their platforms to operate on Windows or Mac OS, so we don’t recommend buying or using an iPad or other tablet for teaching ESL online.
Intel i5 CPU or Better
Most online ESL companies require a computer with an Intel i5 processor or higher. We recommend investing a little more and buy or upgrade your computer with an Intel i7 processor to future-proof your computer for the next few years.
8GB RAM or Higher
Most online ESL companies will require a minimum of 8gb of RAM. We recommend going with 16gb if you can. Memory is one of the most important specifications. The more and faster the RAM, the more options you have in terms of running multiple applications.
There is no way of getting around this! You need a webcam so your students can see you. You can go with a built-in webcam or an external webcam; either is fine. Some online ESL teachers prefer external webcams as they can be more easily positioned without having to move the entire computer or screen. You don’t need a super high-definition webcam.
Fast and Stable Internet Connection
It goes without saying that you will need fast and reliable Internet to teach English online. Most online companies will test your Internet speed as part of their onboarding process, to ensure your Internet won’t affect the delivery of online ESL classes. While it is possible to use a wireless connection, we recommend using a wired connection (an actual Ethernet cable which connects your computer to your router), as this will give you the most stable connection.
Each online ESL company has its own requirements for Internet speed, so it is difficult to give a single recommendation. You will need to verify the connectivity requirements with any company you apply to. What we can suggest is the absolute minimum:
5Mbps or Higher Upload Speed
Upload speed is the speed at which data is transmitted from your device to the Internet. The higher the number, the faster data is uploaded. This is especially important for transmitting your video and audio data, allowing students to see and hear you clearly, without delays or freezing.
10Mbps or Higher Download Speed
Download speed is the reverse of upload speed, and determines how fast your Internet connection can receive data via the Internet. The higher the number, the faster the download. Most people are familiar with the term download, but in the case of online ESL teaching, it relates to how quickly the courseware loads and runs on your device, and affects the smoothness of video and audio transmission from your students’ devices.
Ping Rate 100ms or Less
Ping (also referred to as latency) is calculated in milliseconds, and is essentially a measure of how long it takes to request a connection from your Internet provider’s server to a remote server. The lower the Ping, the better.
Can you teach English online using your mobile data?
Although it is possible, and many teachers do use mobile data, we recommend erring on the side of caution. These days, with mobile data being as fast as it is, you can practically conduct an online ESL lesson using mobile data. However, the problem arises with stability. Mobile data can be unreliable, as the signal can cut in and out, and signal strength can fluctuate depending on your location. We would suggest using mobile data as a backup option for emergencies.
Learn more about how to meet Internet requirement for teaching English online and avoid interruptions to your connection (and your income).
Headset with Boom Mic
Most online ESL companies seem to have a type of image they are going for with their online teachers, and that image is one of the teacher wearing a headset with boom mic. It doesn’t really matter if you have the top of the line bluetooth gaming headset. Beyond the audio quality, it comes down to how you look on video. Anything without a boom mic seems to be viewed as not fitting the image of an online teacher. Fortunately, a headset with boom mic is not at all expensive.
While you can use the built-in webcam on your laptop computer, investing a little more to get an external webcam can truly make a difference in video quality. A decent external webcam will not only make you appear brighter and more clearly on your students’ screens, but also capture a wider range, allowing you to do more with your online teaching workspace. High-end webcams can cost as much as $300, but you can still get an improvement in your video quality with a decent webcam for about $50 – $80.
Good lighting is essential when teaching English online, and you will need to set up your workspace so that your face and upper body can be easily seen. Of course, you don’t need to have 50 bright lights shining in your face while teaching, but with the right amount of lighting, you can illuminate your workspace to where you are clearly visible without being blinded by the lights. We recommend LED lights are they are energy saving, emit less heat, and are easier on the eyes.
Having a good number of props on hand is essential, especially if you will be teaching young learners. Props help get and maintain attention, can aid learning, and can be incorporated into lessons or activities to make them more interesting and fun. There are virtually no limits to what can be used as props, including:
- Soft toys and puppets
- Flash cards
- Realia such as stationery
Naturally, how you dress is going to impact the perception people have of you, and while you won’t be expected to wear a shirt and tie or dress, there are factors to consider. Many cultures such as China can be more conservative when it comes to work attire. Fortunately, conservative doesn’t mean formal. But, it doesn’t mean pajamas or tank tops either. Some online ESL companies have expectations for what their teachers wear, while others are more relaxed. Here are some general guidelines for what to wear when teaching English online:
- Wear a collared long or short sleeve shirt, or a polo shirt (a sweater can be worn on top to keep warm during winter months)
- Avoid any clothing that reveals bare shoulders or upper arms
- Keep facial hair well-groomed
- If wearing makeup, keep it minimal and subtle
- Tie long hair back
- Conceal any tattoos
- Don’t wear body jewelry or excessive jewelry
Additional Online ESL Teaching Aids
After teaching English online for some time, many online ESL teachers go beyond the basic equipment and take steps to improve their online classroom atmosphere. There are many ways you can do this, inexpensively:
How Much Can You Make Teaching English Online?
Calculating Your Pay Rate
Most online ESL teaching positions are independent contractors. Payment is usually based on a contractual hourly rate or per lesson rate. The rates vary from one company to another, but they tend to fall within a typical range of $18 – $20 per hour. When starting out on your search for online job opportunities, it is important to carefully examine the pay rate, in order to avoid confusion and misunderstanding. For example, let’s look this payment structure:
Company A: This company pays $8 per lesson, plus incentives which can increase the rate to $10 per lesson. Each lesson is 25 minutes. It is only possible to teach two 25 minute lessons in an hour, amounting to 50 teaching minutes, with 5 minutes between each lesson. Therefore, the rate you would make in one hour teaching online for this company would be between $18 – $20. However, this is not an hourly rate. This is a 50 minute rate. If we actually calculated the hourly rate, it would be:
Minimum Hourly Rate: $8 ÷ 25 minutes = $0.30 x 60 minutes = $19.20 per hour
Maximum Hourly Rate: $10 ÷ 25 minutes = $0.40 x 60 minutes = $24 per hour
On the company’s job advertisement (or website), it has publicized the hourly rate, but when you see your actual earnings, you will have been paid per lesson.
Company B: This company pays $22 – $26 per hour, but their lessons are 30 minutes in duration, with a 5-minute break between lessons. For example:
Class 1: 6:00 – 6:30
Class 2: 6:35 – 7:05
For these two classes, you have taught a total of one hour, with a 5 minute break between each class. However, completing two 30-minute classes took 1:05 hours (or 65 minutes) of your time, which is more than one hour.
Let’s calculate the pay rate for the time spent teaching:
Minimum Hourly Rate: $22 per hour ÷ 65 minutes = $0.34 x 60 minutes = $20.30 per hour
Maximum Hourly Rate: $26 per hour ÷ 25 minutes = $0.40 x 60 minutes = $24.00 per hour
In this case, though you have been paid per hour, you did technically work more than an hour, so to be honest with yourself, you need to adjust the hourly rate so that it is calculated on a true hour.
Comparing Company A and Company B shows us that both companies have publicized their rates per hour, but both companies are effectively paying you per lesson, though Company A requires 50 minutes of teaching time while Company requires 65 minutes of teaching time.
On the surface, Company B is offering a more attractive rate, but in actuality, both companies are really offering very similar pay.
When you are reviewing the contract and payment structure for any online ESL teaching position, pay attention to how you will be paid as opposed to looking at the published hourly rate, so you can calculate your actual earnings. Companies tend to advertise the hourly rate, though it is possible for teachers to think this is what they will be paid per lesson.
Estimating Monthly Earning Potential
There is a fairly wide range of monthly earnings amongst online ESL teachers, due to several circumstances, such as:
How many online ESL companies the teacher works for
How many lessons are completed in one month
Incentive payments (for performance, standby hours, etc.)
Secondary positions with companies (recruiting, interviewing, developing lessons, etc.)
Some online ESL teachers make as much as $4,000 per month and working as many as 6 to 8 hours per day, 6 to 7 days per week. Others work a few hours per week, and earn $300 per month. It really will depend on the number of hours you make available for teaching English online, and the number of lessons made available to you through the companies you work for.
We estimate that the typical online ESL teacher who works 3 hours per day, 5 days per week, will earn between $1,200 – $1,500 per month. Depending on how many days and time slots you open for lessons, you can expect to make $1,000 – $1,500. If you take on additional roles within the company, you may find that you can increase your income to around $2,000. Below is a table to help you estimate the amount you can earn teaching English online. Note that this is an estimate based on a $20 hourly rate, and the earnings are before taxes:
Real-Life Online ESL Teachers Who Share Their Stories
We have interviewed several online ESL teachers, each with a unique story and journey into this awesome career. Discover their personal experiences with teaching English online.
Jeremy moved overseas and made a new home and life on a tropical island in The Philippines, where he teaches ESL online and loves every minute of it.
Annette lives in a small city. Discovering online ESL has allowed her to balance her time between teaching English online and performing music.
Michael worked in the corporate world before transitioning into online ESL. In his own words, this is hands down the best job he has ever had.